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600 North Wabash Avenue 

Submitted to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, May 200 1 


Richard M. Daley, Mayor 

Department of Planning and Development 

Alicia Mazur Berg, Commissioner 


The Medinah Temple represents an architectural oasis on the southwest corner of Wabash Avenue and Ontario Street 
Its lavish, sculptural masonry provides a marked contrast to surrounding concrete and glass highrises. 


The ornately detailed entrance pavilion to the Medinah Temple includes arabesque ornament and Arabic script proclaiming: 
"There is no God but Allah," which is a traditional inscription found on Islamic mosques.The title type (below photo) is taken 
from the headline of a 1913 Architectural Record article. 

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks, whose nine members are appointed by the Mayor; was established in 1968. 
The Commission is responsible for recommending to the City Council which individual buildings, sites, objects or districts 
should be designated as Chicago Landmarks. 

The Commission makes its recommendations to the City Council following a detailed designation process. It begins with a staff 
report on the historical and architectural background and significance of the proposed landmark The next step is a vote by the 
Landmarks Commission as to whether the proposed landmark is worthy of consideration. Not only does this preliminary vote 
initiate the formal designation process, but it places the review of city permits for the property under the jurisdiction of the 
Commission until the final landmark recommendation is acted on by the City Council. 

Please note that this landmark designation report is subject to possible revision during the designation process. Only language 
contained within the designation ordinance recommended to the City Council should be regarded as final. 

Medinah Temple 

600 North Wabash Avenue 



Huehl & Schmid 

In the new Medinah Temple, recently erected for the Masonic 
order of the Mystic Shrine in Chicago, is found one of those rare 
instances in which a building designed in a historical style remote 
from our 20th century civilization and ideals seems logical and 
in harmony with its surroundings. 

— The Architectural Record, April 1913 

The views of this architectural critic still seem appropriate — 
more than 85 years later — as the four-story tall Medinah Temple 
remains one of the most distinctive structures on the Near North 
Side of Chicago, due to its exceptional craftsmanship, exotic design 
details, and its history as one of the city's longtime cultural centers. 

The building was constructed to house a 4,200-seat auditorium 
for the Chicago chapter (the "Medinah Temple") of the national 
Shrine fraternal organization. The building's unique appearance 
marks it as an extremely rare example of the Islamic Revival, 
a style of architecture that was popularized during the first decades 
of the 20th century by the Shrine organization. It is considered one 
of the nation's finest examples of an Islamic-style temple and it 
was ranked as one of the top 200 buildings in the city by the 
Chicago Historic Resources Survey. 

The building's exterior provides a textbook of Islamic details, 
from horseshoe and ogival arches to arabesque-style ornament. 
Its exquisite brick-and-terra cotta work is a tribute to the Shrine 
organization's origins as a 16th century British stonemasons guild. 
As one critic noted in 1913: "No member of the Shrine, or layman 
who knows something of the ideals of this order, would ever 
mistake this building for other than what it is." 

The Medinah Temple occupies 
a half-square block in the River 
North neighborhood, two blocks 
west of the famed North Michigan 
Avenue retail district. 

This 1893 photograph of the leadership 
of the Chicago chapter ("temple") of 
the Shrine fraternal organization was 
taken nearly 20 years before the 
construction of the Medinah Temple 
building. From its earliest years, the 
Shrine chose Islamic-inspired clothing, 
rituals, and building decorations for 
the imagery of its organization. 

The Origins of the Medinah Temple 

The Medinah Temple was built to serve as the Chicago headquarters 
of a popular national fraternal organization, the Ancient Arabic Order 
of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (a.k.a. the Shriners). Founded in 
New York City in 1872, the Shrine was one of several organizations 
established in the late- 1 9th century that restricted its membership 
to men already active in "Freemasonry," an ancient British stonemason's 
guild that had evolved into a social club of gentlemen, merchants, 
and tradesmen. 

In order to become a Shriner, a member had to have achieved either 
the status of a "Knight Templar" in the Masonic York Rite or the 
"32nd degree" in the Masonic Scottish Rite. The Shrine was conceived 
of as a secret society that would honor the underlying seriousness of 
Freemasonry while incorporating rituals filled with levity and entertain- 
ment. It was structured around local groups, known as "temples," which 
were the regional equivalent of neighborhood Masonic lodges. A temple 
was given the exclusive right to draw membership from the region 
in which it was located, and only one Shrine temple was given a charter 
in any given city. 

The historic Islamic culture of the Middle East was chosen as 
the source for the symbols, motifs, and identities that would be used 
by the Shrine organization. The temples were given exotic-sounding 
names from Islamic history or geography, such as Mecca (New York 
City), Kismet (Brooklyn), Murat (Indianapolis), or Al Malaikah 
(Los Angeles) . The board of officers of each temple was known as 
the Divan and officers were given titles such as "potentate," "rabban," 
or "high chief and prophet." 

•h**"* ti * *-7 



Initiation and other rituals utilized exotic set decorations and Islamic- 
inspired clothes, such as the well-known red fez. The buildings that 
the local Shrine temples built to house their activities were referred 
to as "mosques" and were designed using Islamic-inspired architectural 
forms and details. This appropriation of Islamic imagery provided 
a stage within which American middle- and upper-middle-class men 
could escape ordinary work and family responsibilities and enter 
an imaginary world of the "carefree" Middle Eastern oasis. 

The Medinah Temple, as the Chicago Shrine organization was called, 
was founded on June 6, 1883, and was the 14th Shrine temple in 
the United States. It was named for the city of Madina al-Nabi, where 
the prophet Muhammad fled in 622 A.D. and founded the first Islamic 
state, before mounting his conquest of Arabia. (The official location 
of the Medinah Temple within the Shrine organization is in the 
"Desert of Illinois; Oasis of Chicago") 

Left The rapid growth of the Shrine's 
local membership prompted this 
humorous 1 907 Chicago Daily News 
cartoon of what life would be like 
"When Everybody is a Shriner," ranging 
from the Islamic clothing of policemen 
and baseball players to the design 
of streetcars. 

Above: Prior to the construction of 
Medinah Temple, the Shrine occupied 
the former Unity Church on North 
Dearborn Street. 

For the first few years, the members of the Chicago Shrine organization 
met in rented public halls and local Masonic lodges. Between 1893 and 
1 903 , the organization was housed on the top two floors of the Medinah 
Building, an office building at Jackson and Wells (now demolished) . 
Between 1903 and 1912, it occupied the former Unity Church 
at Dearborn and Walton (now the Scottish Rite Cathedral and part 
of the Washington Square Chicago Landmark District). 

Membership in the Chicago Shrine organization expanded greatly 
during the early 1 900s , reaching more than 1 1 ,000 by 1911, when 
the need for a larger mosque was recognized. That year, the organization 
bought the mansion of the late Judge Lambert Tree, which was located 
on Wabash Avenue between Ohio and Ontario. It selected the Chicago 
architectural firm of Huehl & Schmid to design a new mosque for 
the site. 

A building permit was issued on October 7, 1911, and the cornerstone 
was laid three weeks later in an elaborate ceremony held at midnight on 
Halloween, which was attended by about 5,000 members — nearly half 
the totahmem her ship . The new Medinah Temple mosque was d edicate d 
a year later, when it was called "the largest auditorium in the world 
erected by a social organization." 

Building Description 

The plethora of Islamic and Middle Eastern ornament found both 
on the exterior and interior of the Medinah Temple gives it a sense of 
exotic fantasy that well suited the Shrine rituals the building sheltered. 
This decor also provided a memorable setting for the many concerts, 
circus performances, lectures, and other events that have been held 
here over the years. Nonetheless, the primary purpose of the Medinah 
Temple was to function efficiently as the Chicago headquarters of a 
rapidly growing social organization. As an article in the April 1913 
issue of the Architectural Record noted: 

The Medinah Temple is thoroughly modern, while the Arabic 
elements are so woven into the design as to become an integral 
part of it. This building is, in fact, a modern structure, with Arabic 
decorative expression, just as the Shrine itself is an organization 
modern in its ideals, but possessing an Arabic ritual. 

A four-story building, the Medinah Temple covers the eastern half 
of a city block bounded by Wabash, Ontario, State and Ohio streets. 
Its original footprint is roughly 150x218 feet, and the building's 
exterior form clearly expresses its primary interior space, which 
is a 4,200-seat auditorium — termed at the time as "the largest 
and most impressive in the West." 

This 1913 photograph (left) depicts the building's main 
entrance pavilion and one of its original comer domes. 
The contrast between square and curved forms (above) 
gives the building a dynamic street presence. 

The building's central feature is a large rectangular pavilion facing 
Wabash, which marks the main entrance and lobby area. At the four 
corners of the building are smaller pavilions that provide secondary 
entrances and house the building's main staircases. In between these 
entry pavilions — and above a one-story base — the walls of the building 
curve to the contours of the auditorium within. This combination of 
rectilinear and curved building forms gives the exterior of the building 
a dynamic street presence on its very tight urban site. 

Built of reinforced concrete, the exterior of the Medinah Temple 
is faced with brick walls of unusually high quality and craftsmanship, 
which is appropriate since the building was constructed to house 
a fraternal organization whose origins were rooted in the art and craft 
of traditional stonemasonry. 

The brick itself is orange-brown colored and mottled with dark flecks. 
Its "wire-cut" finish gives it the impression of handmade bricks, rich 
in color and texture. This appearance is further heightened by the style 
of the masonry work. The bricks were laid in a variation of the Flemish 
bond, featuring alternating headers and stretchers in each course, 
with each header centered above and below a stretcher. 

What is particularly unusual, however, is the size of the "bricks," which 
were formed by combining groups of four (for the stretchers) and two 
(for the headers) regular-sized bricks. By finishing the mortar joints 
flush with the face of the bricks, the result was alternating rectangular 
and square "superbricks."The building's scale is large and blocklike, 

The Medinah's sculptural, monumental 
quality is enhanced by its decorative 
terra cotta and distinctive brickwork. 
Each of its "superbricks" (detail, top) 
is actually composed of two or four 
regularly sized bricks. Their "wire-cut" 
finish complements the building's Islamic- 
style ornament (above). 

The Medinah is literally encrusted 
with terra-cotta ornamental designs 
common to Islamic-style mosques. 
Clockwise, from top left a muqarnas- 
filled niche, a horseshoe-arched comer 
entrance, arabesque details surrounding 
a lattice-filled arch, and Arabic script 

-a highly 

unusual com 


but with a very fine sense of detail- 
for a Chicago building. 

Medinah Temple is lavishly detailed with Islamic ornament. The 
entrances and many of the second-floor windows are framed within 
horseshoe-shaped arches, which was a common detail on such Spanish 
Moorish buildings as the Great Mosque of Cordoba and the Alhambra 
Palace complex in Granada. Pointed ogival arches, another common 
Moorish detail, were used for first-floor windows. Intricate patterns 
of geometric forms or stylized plants (referred to as arabesques) form 
decorative surrounds around the doors and windows. 

The building's main entrance (see cover) is dominated by a four-story 
rectangular arch, bordered with bands of terra cotta contrasting in color 
and ornament. Within this arch is a smaller, two-story horseshoe arch 
that shelters the entrance. Above this arch is a row of five connected 

horseshoe arch 

ogival arch 

moqarnas-filled niche 

muqarnas dome 

horseshoe-arched windows, separated by engaged columns; above that 
are three single rectangular-arched windows. The main entrance is 
flanked by decorative mu^arnas-filled niches accented with decorative 
faceting, again a common feature in Islamic mosques and palaces. 

Surrounding the main entrance is a continuous terra-cotta band of 
Arabic script, composed of cream-colored lettering atop a dark brown 
background. It reads: "There is no God but Allah," which was a tradi- 
tional inscription found in Islamic mosques. The lettering used here 
was based on the exact lettering found in the Alhambra. (The existing, 
projecting metal canopy above the entrance represents a remodeling 
of the original canopy, which was thinner and more decorative.) 

The building's secondary, corner entrances are set within horseshoe- 
shaped surrounds that are topped by clusters of horseshoe-arched, 
rectangular, and square windows. The upper-floor windows in the 
curved exterior walls of the auditorium are similar in form and set 
within recessed panels decorated with Arabic tracery. The building's 
original terra cotta domes, which were set atop the two corner 
pavilions facing Wabash, were based on Persian and Ottoman mosque 
precedents and were covered with arabesque patterns. (These domes 
were removed early in the building's history — about 1939 — and the 
upper portions of the pavilions were rebuilt. The architect of record 
for this remodeling was W.J. Ryan.) 

Much of the building's ornament is architectural terra cotta produced 
by the Midland Terra Cotta Company of Chicago. Its finish was roughly 
textured to appear handmade. Flat bands of terra cotta, mostly in dark 

This illustration from an art history 
textbook shows some of the common 
features of historic Islamic-style 

Many of Medinah's windows are filled 
with stained glass that has been 
attributed to Louis Millet, an artisan 
who worked with architect Louis 
Sullivan on the Auditorium Building. 

browns but with contrasting reds and blues, were molded into a variety 
of abstracted arabesque patterns that frame the entrances and windows. 
Terra cotta also was used for the projecting ledges above secondary 
entrances, around some upper-floor windows, and on a variety of 
cornices throughout the building. All were ornamented with flat foliate 
patterns. Much of this terra cotta remains, although several small terra 
cotta balconnettes gracing upper-floor windows have been removed, 
as has the top portion of the cornice above the entrance pavilion. 

Decorative metal grillwork, forming flat geometric patterns, fills 
entrance arches and low, rectangular basement windows. Stained 
glass — in whites, greens, and browns — fills many of the building's 
casement windows and transoms. Their designs are detailed with 
arabesque patterns arranged in a manner that suggests a variation 
on the Sullivanesque style of ornament popularized by architect 
Louis H. Sullivan. (We have been unable to confirm reports that 
these windows were designed by Louis Millet, an artist who worked 
in Chicago around the turn of the century. Millet's notable works 
include the stencilling and stained glass in the Auditorium Building, 
which was designed by Adler & Sullivan.) 

The design of the Medinah Temple attracted a great deal of praise upon 
its completion. The Architectural Record, a national architecture magazine, 
called it one of "those rare instances in which a building designed in a 
historical style. . .seems logical and in harmony with its surroundings." 

More recently, the AIA Guide to Chicago (1993) has noted that while 
the building's architect, Huehl & Schmid, had created scores of fanciful 
Shriners auditoriums: "This is one of their largest and best preserved." 
The Chicago Historic Resources Survey identified the building in its 1986 
field survey of the Near North Side, giving it the highest possible survey 
ranking ("red"), an honor accorded to only 200 buildings citywide. 
Finally, Chicago's Famous Buildings (1993) cited the building's 

Exuberant domes and highly textured surfaces... [which] 
promise excitement, the unexpected, and the exotic to 
its audiences. . .[filling its] low-rise block with forms that are 
at human scale and visually diverse, providing an oasis of space 
and light in the increasingly dense high-rise development 
that surrounds them. 

The Temple's Interior 

Medinah Temple's interior is largely devoted to a 4,200-seat 
auditorium and a basement banquet hall seating 2, 300. The first 
floor originally held four lounges, and the public circulation areas, 
including staircases and secondary lobbies, are simply detailed 
and efficiently designed. 


Above: The Medinah Temple's 4,200-seat 
auditorium, includes a projecting"thrust- 
style" stage — a common feature of 
Shrine theater designs. 

Left Surrounding the auditorium 
is a series of parlors, small lobbies, 
and coat-check rooms. 

The auditorium is grand in scale, with a 50-foot-high ceiling orna- 
mented with a large, 80-foot-wide saucer dome. The dome is double- 
shell in construction and its design is based on that of the mosque 
of Hagia Sophia, located in Istanbul, Turkey, which was built 
as a church during the Byzantine Empire. A ring of windows at 
the base of the dome is filled with stained glass similar to that found 
in the exterior windows. A central chandelier, 1 2 feet in diameter 
and containing 2SS electric light bulbs, hangs from this dome. 

The auditorium's seating is arranged in three tiers — main floor, balcony, 
and gallery — that curve around the central stage, which projects 45 feet 
into the audience. This combination of a proscenium -thrust stage was 
a typical feature in Shrine mosques; it was 68 feet wide. Steel ceiling 
trusses reduce the number of support columns, providing fine sightlines 
for the audience. 

A mural above the proscenium arch, painted by artist Gustave A. 
Brand, depicts a desert pilgrimage. Temple lore states that the figures 
in the painting are portraits of the Medinah Temple's officers from 1912. 
The auditorium was redecorated in 1924 and, although the mural, 
central chandelier, and stained glass were retained, additional surface 
decoration based on Hagia Sophia was added. 

The auditorium's large concert organ was installed in 1915 by the 
Austin Organ Company of Hartford, Conn. , and is considered by organ 
enthusiasts as one of the finest "symphonic style" organs in the United 
States. It contains 5,120 pipes from one-half inch to 30 feet in length 
and is operated from five keyboards. 

Exterior Alterations 

Although the exterior of the Medinah Temple remains largely intact, 
there have been several changes that have altered its original appearance. 
The most notable one was the removal, in aboutl939, of the building's 
two original terra cotta domes, which necessitated a reconstruction of 
the top floor of the corner pavilions facing Wabash Avenue. These domes 
were not replaced for 15 years, until 1954, when copper-clad "onion- 
shaped" domes were added atop the corner replacement roofs. (These 
replacement domes subsequently were removed in 1995.) 

Other alterations include the replacement of the building's original 
wood-and-glass entrance doors with bronze-metal units. Approximately 
a dozen small upper-floor balconnettes, featuring decorative wrought - 
iron railings, also have been removed over the years. 

In 1959, a three-story rear addition, known as the Unit Building, was 
constructed on a portion of the courtyard of the adjacent Tree Studios 
complex. This 23,000-square-foot annex, which largely is not visible 
from the surrounding streets, provided space for rehearsals, storage, 
and meetings. During the mid-1990s, a large electronic billboard was 
installed on the building's Ohio Street facade. 

Despite these minor changes, the Medinah Temple still possesses 
good physical integrity, retaining the vast majority of its historic 
features and decoration. 





The major alteration to the Medinah 
Temple has been a series of changes to 
its comer pavilions.The building's original 
terra cotta domes (top) were removed 
in c. 1 939 and replaced by rebuilt, flat- 
roofed pavilions (middle). In 1 954, these 
pavilions were topped by sheet-metal, 
onion-shaped domes (bottom) that, 
subsequently, were removed in 1 995. 

u rp r 

— * :\ n. .; m Tt Tt 1 > 



The Great Mosque in Isfahan, 
Persia (Iran), which was begun 
in the I Ith century, illustrates some 
of the traditional features of Islamic 

Islamic Architecture and the Shriners 

The architecture of ancient Islam — a style that predominated in 
western Asia from the seventh through 1 3th centuries — has not been 
a common source of inspiration for American architects. In fact, its 
most prevalent use in the United States has been during the early-20th 
century by the architects who designed dozens of regional mosques 
throughout the nation for the Shrine fraternal organization. 

Islamic-inspired buildings were rare in the early days of the United 
States. One of the first was the Bazaar in Cincinnati, Ohio, which was 
a combination ballroom-and-shopping arcade built in 1 828 and featur- 
ing onion domes and an arabesque-detailed arcade. One of the best 
known early Islamic-influenced buildings is "Longwood," an octagonal 
house in Natchez, Mississippi. It was designed in 1 860 by Philadelphia 
architect Samuel Sloan and featured horseshoe-arched porch details 
and a central onion dome. 

The image of the "Oriental pleasure dome" was inspired by the various 
Islamic-inspired pavilions that were built at numerous world's fairs held 
in the U.S. during the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Their popular- 
ity led to the construction of several theaters, music halls, movie 
palaces, and resort hotels in the style. 

A famous example was the Tampa Bay Hotel in Tampa, Florida, which 
was built in 1891 . Its onion domes and minaret towers were said by 
one contemporary writer to be "patterned after the [Moorish] palaces 
of Spain, with horseshoe arches and crescents everywhere visible 


Among the few examples of Islamic-influenced design in 
the U.S. are (clockwise, from top left): the New Regal Theater 
on Chicago's South Side (1 926), the Tampa Bay Hotel (1891) 
in Florida, the since-demolished Zion Temple on the city's 
West Side ( 1 885), and the Longwood mansion in Natchez, 
Mississippi (I860). 

in the design." A much later, local example is the New Regal (formerly 
Avalon) Theater, 1641 East 79th Street, designed in 1926 by architect 
John Eberson. 

Perhaps the most common use of Islamic design in the late- 1 9th century 
was for Jewish synagogues. Gothic architecture, the most widely 
accepted style for Christian churches, was seen as unsuitable for Jewish 
synagogues and temples. According to the National Trust for Historic 
Preservation's What Style Is It? A Guide to American Architecture: "The 
Moorish Revival had historical precedent in the beautiful Mudejar 
synagogues of Spain that were built before the 1 5th century."Two 
prominent early examples were the Central Synagogue in New York 
(1870-72) and Adler & Sullivan's ZionTemple in Chicago (1885; 
demolished c. 1955). 

During the 20th century, however, the most common examples 

of Islamic-based architecture were the various regional temples built 

by the Shriners fraternal organization. Their use of Islamic-based 


Romantic Middle-Eastern imagery was 
a pervasive part of Shrine culture, even 
for the cover of this 1 922 business 
meeting brochure. 

architecture and ornamentation reflected the organization's identifi- 
cation with Islamic imagery, which could be seen in the names of its 
chapters and officers, its rituals and programs, and even its costumes. 

The Islamic world of the Middle East had long been depicted — mainly 
through literature — as an exotic place where time stood still and where 
men were free of the trappings and responsibilities of Western civiliza- 
tion. The founders of the Shrine organization saw their new fraternal 
group as one that would teach American men how to be "legitimately 
frivolous," according to an 1925 article by Imperial Potentate (national 
president) James E. Chandler. Consequently, most of the Shrine rituals 
incorporated a Middle Eastern sense of exotic indulgence and freedom. 

Early in the organization's history, local Shrine chapters (temples) 
shared space with other masonic groups. By 1900, however, they had 
become large and prosperous enough to begin constructing their own 
buildings. Due to their Arabic-inspired rituals, Shrine buildings became 
known as mosques and utilized many of the details of Islamic architec- 
ture, including horseshoe arches, minarets, onion domes, geometric 
decoration, Arabic-script panels and friezes, and ornamental grilles. 
Their auditoriums featured elaborate thrust-style stages that provided 
the proper setting for Shrine pageantry, especially initiation rites. 

During the first three decades of the 20th century, Islamic-revival architecture found 
its principal use in Shrine mosques. Seen here (left to right) are the: Murat Temple 
in Indianapolis, Indiana; Irem Temple, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania; Al Malaikah Temple, 
Los Angeles, California; and Kismet Temple, Brooklyn, New York. 


Medinah Temple was the first of several 
Shrine-related buildings designed by 
Harris Huehl (left) and Richard Schmid 
(right). Both men were Shriners and 
Huehl had served a term as potentate 
(president) of Medinah Temple. 

The first Shrine mosque to use Islamic forms and details was the 
Lu Lu Temple in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which was designed 
by Frederick Webber and completed in 1904. Its horseshoe arches, 
arabesque ornament, and onion domes set a standard for dozens 
of other Shrine temples to follow, including Chicago's Medinah Temple. 
Other early Islamic-style designs were the: Irem Temple inWilkes- 
Barre, Pennsylvania (1907), Kismet Temple in Brooklyn, New York 
(1909), and Morocco Temple in Jacksonville, Florida (1910). 

The Architects of Medinah Temple 

In most cases, the Shrine mosques were designed by architects 
who were members of the Shrine. Medinah was no exception. 
Both partners of Huehl & Schmid, the firm that the Medinah Temple 
selected to design its new building, were Shriners. 

Harris H. Huehl had served one term (1905-06) as the potentate 
(president) of Medinah Temple. Fellow Shrine member Richard 
Gustave Schmid (1863-1937), who trained at the Massachusetts 
Institute of Technology, had worked for Boston architect Henry 
Hobson Richardson and his successor firm, Shepley, Rutan, and 
Coolidge (the architects of the Chicago Public Library -Cultural 
Center). A native Chicagoan, Schmid returned to Chicago in 1 890, 
when he formed an architectural partnership with Huehl. 

The firm of Huehl & Schmidt enjoyed a solid reputation for its designs 
of private residences, apartment buildings, commercial stores, and 
small loft manufacturing buildings. Among their surviving buildings 
are: 4849 South Ellis Avenue (1 897) in the Kenwood Landmark 
District; 1 16 and 123 West Illinois Street (1909-1 1); and 706 and 
800West Hutchinson Street (1905-08) in the Hutchinson Street 
Landmark District. 


Huehl & Schmid's flamboyant design 
for the Medinah Temple gave the firm 
national recognition. It also led to more 
commissions for Shrine buildings, 
including the Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh, 
Pennsylvania (1915; demolished). 

However, the firm had never received a commission the size and 
visibility of the Medinah Temple. In researching their design, at least 
one of the partners reportedly traveled to the Middle East to get 
a first-hand look at various examples of Islamic style architecture. 

The firm's efforts paid off. Upon its completion, the Medinah Temple 
was widely praised as one of the nation's most masterful expressions 
of the Shrine's aesthetic ideals. It was featured in two of the nation's 
leading architectural magazines, The Architectural Record and Western 
Architect, and its success quickly brought other commissions to the 
firm — primarily for Shrine temples and Masonic lodges. In 1915, 
the firm designed the Syria Mosque for the Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) 
Shrine Temple. Later, the firm was commissioned to design a Masonic 
Temple in Allentown, Pennsylvania (1922), the Scottish Rite Cathedral 
in Newcastle, Pennsylvania (1923), and fraternal club buildings 
in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Elizabeth, New Jersey. 

Following Huehl's death in 1918, Schmid organized his own firm, 
R.G. Schmid & Co., which was responsible for the Islamic -inspired 
design of the Medinah Country Club (1925), located near the DuPage 
County suburb of Bloomingdale, Illinois. That firm was succeeded 
by Schmid & Ryan in 1 927. 

One indication of the importance of the Medinah Temple commission 
to Schmid's career is his listing in the Biographical Dictionary of American 
Architects (Deceased), which begins with the line: "Noted designer of 
Masonic buildings " 

'Mighty Medinah' Since 1912 

At its opening in 1912, the new Medinah Temple was hailed by Shrine 
members as a grand setting for its ceremonies: "A setting of Arabic 


m Shf*ir utiles tk dim 

^^B > • 

^B l3 *vi *** J^PK t* ^£vX*PW 

HLf^iK -jfljE* Til 

iii*iTl^Ht^ ff!n HI 

mil fl ifcJli *• * W A- T JB 

Shrine Membership, 1882-1936 


End of 
















The Shrine's rituals and ceremonies, 
such as the one featured in a 1 938 
UFE magazine article (above), were 
important Medinah Temple activities. 
National Shrine membership grew 
phenomenally during the first two 
decades of the 20th century, reaching 
a peak of nearly 600,000 in 1926 (left). 

CS (> On i> 

Q~< tj\ <J-\ (J\ Q\ &* (T~- (T'- O^ <J^ &■■ 

splendor," according to the official history of Medinah: WOYears of Love. 
The temple's membership rose sharply in the years following the 
opening of the new mosque; nearly 5,000 joined in 1920 alone. 
By 1926, Shrine membership in Chicago had reached 23,100, 
making it the second largest temple in the United States. 

"Mighty Medinah," as members began calling the mosque, was the 
acknowledged center of the institution's social life. But, for the rest 



Over the years, the Chicago Shrine 
has sponsored a wide array of concerts 
and charity events, including several 
performances by America's foremost 
march composer — and Shrine 
member — John Philip Sousa (top). 
"Shrine Day," as seen in this 1976 photo 
of Little Leaguers with members of 
the Chicago White Sox (above), is 
an annual event held at Comiskey 
Park to raise money for the Shrine 
Childrens' Hospital. 

The Medinah Country Club, built in 1 925 in then-rural DuPage County, was developed 
by a group of Shriners. It has been the site of numerous benefit golf tournaments 
and other organization fundraisers. The building was designed by Richard Schmid, 
one of the architects of the Medinah Temple. 

of Chicago, the new auditorium also became an important site 
in the city's cultural life. It has been a home for hundreds of public 
events, from speeches and rallies to concerts and college graduation 
ceremonies and even circuses. It has brought countless Chicagoans 
together under its broad roof, providing both momentary pleasures 
and lifelong memories. 

Soon after the temple's construction, the special acoustical qualities 
of its auditorium became apparent. The installation of a new pipe 
organ in 1915 was celebrated by a series of concerts with the Chicago 
Symphony Orchestra, which marked the beginning of an important 
association between the two groups. 

Many of the Shrine events were restricted to members, but others 
were open to family members and friends, including a regular series 
of twice-monthly Sunday afternoon concerts. Many Medinah events 
elaborated on the Shrine's associations with Islamic imagery. Starting 
in 1922, an annual series, "Medinah Frolics "featured music, ceremonial 
drills, and dancing for Shrine members and their wives. In 1 926, 
a program entitled "Pageants of the Orient" was instituted to give 
Shrine families the "drama and color" of some of the organization's 
secret initiation rites. Other Islamic-theme events included 
"A Night in Bagdad: A Fantasy of Oriental Splendor" and "A Night 
in Constantinople." 

The broad range of performers who have appeared at public events 
at Medinah Temple is impressive. Notables have included: band leader 
and Shrine member John Philip Sousa (19 IS), operatic tenor Enrico 
Caruso (c.1920), ballerina Anna Pavlova and the Ballet Russe (1921), 
Blackstone the Magician (1933), the "WLS Barn Dance" radio show 
(1936), Broadway star Mary Martin (1958-59), and most recently, 
Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" radio show (1996). 

In the early 1920s, the national Shrine organization began to devote 
time, energy, and money to the construction and operation of local 
hospitals for crippled children. In 1926, the Chicago Unit of the 
Shriners Hospitals for Crippled Children opened at Belden and Oak 
Park avenues on the city's Far Northwest Side. (It was replaced with 
a new facility in 1981.) 

The tremendous growth of the Shrine organization during the 1920s 
also prompted the creation of two other clubs in the Chicago area. 
In 1925, the Medinah Country Club was built in then-rural DuPage 
County, near Bloomingdale.The Islamic design of the club building 
was by Richard G. Schmid, one of the architects of the Medinah 
Temple. Four years later, a group of Shriners developed the 42 -story 
Medinah Athletic Club Building, 505 North Michigan Avenue, to 
provide hotel and recreational facilities for local and visiting Shriners. 
The Great Depression led to its bankruptcy in 1 934; it now houses 
the Hotel Inter- Continental. 

The Depression years also saw a decline in the Medinah Temple's 
membership, from 23,000 in 1926 to approximately 14,400 
by the mid- 1930s. 

One of the Medinah Temple's favorite and most well-known events 
dates to the World War II era. Although circuses had performed 
in the building previously (dating to a 1926 matinee performance 
for Shrine members' children), the famed Medinah Shrine Circus 
did not become an annual winter event until 1 943. Over the five 
decades since then, the circuses have raised millions of dollars 
for Shrine hospitals and other charities, while entertaining hundreds 
of thousands of Chicago children and their families . 

The building's association with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra 
(CSO) was formalized in 1956-57 when the orchestra's entire season 
was performed there— due to renovations at Orchestra Hall— under 
noted conductor Fritz Reiner. 

On April 26, 1967, again due to construction at Orchestra Hall, the 
symphony decided to record Bela Bartok's "Miraculous Mandarin Suite" 
at Medinah Temple (RCA Records; Jean Martinon, conductor). Over 

Medinah Temple is widely known as 
the location for circuses and symphonies. 
The Shrine Circus (top), one of the city's 
most popular events, has been held 
annually at the Temple since 1943. The 
auditorium's rich acoustics also made 
ft the recording studio for more than 
1 00 records by the Chicago Symphony 
Orchestra. This 1 972 album cover shows 
CSO music director Daniel Barenboim 
conducting in the auditorium. 


The red fez is a trademark of Shrine 
membership. This photo appeared 
in a 1938 LIFE magazine article 
on the Shriners. 

the next IS years, the CSO recorded more than 100 performances 
at Medinah Temple, on such prestigious labels as Angel, Columbia, 
Deutsches Gramophon, London, and RCA. Much of the orchestra's 
world reknown during the tenure of music director Sir Georg Solti 
came through recordings made at Medinah Temple in the 1970s and 
early 1980s, including works by Mahler, Berlioz, and Brahms. Other 
important conductors who recorded with the orchestra in Medinah 
include current music director Daniel Barenboim, and guest conductors 
Carlo Maria Giulini, Seiji Ozawa, Erich Leinsdorf, James Levine, 
Morton Gould, Andre Previn and Karl Boehm. 

Along with these cultural events, Medinah Temple also has served 
as the home for countless benefits, meetings of church, educational, 
and charitable organizations, high school and college graduations, 
and business meetings. Shrine membership, however, has continued 
to decline to a number that could nearly fit within its 4,200-seat 
auditorium. As a result, the membership approved placing the 
Medinah Temple up for sale in the summer of 1998. 


Criteria for Designation 

According to the Municipal Code of Chicago (§ 2- 1 20-620 and 630), 
the Commission on Chicago Landmarks has the authority to recom- 
mend a building for landmark designation if the Commission deter- 
mines that it meets two or more of the stated "criteria for landmark 
designation," as well as possesses a significant degree of its historic 
design integrity. 

Based on the findings in this report, the following should be considered 
by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks in determining whether 
to recommend the Medinah Temple for designation as a Chicago 

Criterion I: Critical Part of the City's History 

Its value as an example of the architectural, cultural, economic, historic, 
social, or other aspect of the heritage of the City of Chicago, State of 
Illinois or the United States. 

Since its opening in 1912, the Medinah Temple has served as the 
Chicago headquarters of a popular national fraternal organization, 
the Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (a.k.a. the 
Shriners) . The Shrine was one of several organizations established in 
the late- 1 9th century that restricted its membership to men already 
active in "Freemasonry," a British stonemason's guild that had evolved 
into a social club of gentlemen, merchants, and tradesmen. 

By the mid- 1920s, it was estimated that one-half of the adult males in 
the United States belonged to some type of freemasonry organization. 
Membership in the Shrine's Medinah Temple expanded greatly during 
the early 1900s, reaching more than 1 1 ,000 members by 1911 and 
2 1 ,000 by 1920— when the Chicago branch was the nation's second- 
largest Shrine organization. 

In addition to its fraternal functions, the Medinah Temple has also been 
the site of numerous lectures, school graduations, and musical perfor- 
mances. Among those who have performed in its 4,200-seat auditorium 
are: band leader-composer John Philip Sousa, opera singers Enrico 
Caruso and Ernestine Schumann -Heink, ballerina Anna Pavlova, Broad- 
way singer Mary Martin, and numerous composers and conductors, 
including: Daniel Barenboim, Felix Borowski, Morton Gould, Erich 
Leinsdorf, Seiji Ozawa, Andre Previn, Sir Georg Solti, and Leopold 
Stokowski . 


Because of its fine acoustics, the auditorium has been used 
as the recording studio for more than 1 00 recordings by the Chicago 
Symphony Orchestra. Many of the records for which the symphony 
is internationally recognized were made at the Medinah Temple. 

Finally, the Medinah Temple is known to several generations of 
Chicagoans as the site of the Shrine Circus, which has been an annual 
winter event at the Medinah Temple since 1943. Proceeds from the 
event have helped support the Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children, 
which opened on the city's Far Northwest Side in 1926. 

Criterion 4: Important Architecture 

Its exemplification of an architectural type or style distinguished by 
innovation, rarity, uniqueness, or overall quality of design, detail, materials 
or craftsmanship. 

The Medinah Temple is an important and unusual example of Islamic 
Revival architecture, aptly expressive of its exotic associations with the 
Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. The architectural 
style of Medinah Temple is based on traditional Spanish Moorish and 
Middle Eastern architecture, of which there are virtually no other 
examples in Chicago. 

The building is replete with Islamic details, including horseshoe arched 
windows (found in the Great Mosque of Cordova and the Alhambra in 
Granada), distinctive pointed "ogival" arches, and ornate "Arabesques" 
(intricate patterns of geometric forms or stylized plants) that surround 
doors and windows. 

Two large terra cotta domes covered with arabesque patterns (removed 
circa 1 939), and located on the two corner pavilions facing Wabash 
Avenue, were based on Persian and Ottoman mosque architecture. 
The main entrance is flanked by decorative "muqarnas"-filled niches, 
another prominent feature of Islamic mosques and palaces. The building 
also incorporates Arabic script into the overall decoration. 

The brickwork and terra cotta detailing of the Medinah Temple 
is a showcase of masonry craftsmanship, which is appropriate for 
an organization based on masonry trade guilds. The bricks are unusual 
for their size and texture. Each "brick" is actually made up of clusters 
of regular-sized bricks, giving the wall a monumental character. 
In addition, the bricks have a "wire-cut" finish that imparts a distinctive 
hand -hewn quality. This notion of a handcrafted building is enhanced 
by the use of architectural terra-cotta, done in dark brown and contrast- 
ing reds and blues. This material was used for the building's arabesque- 
patterned lintels and balconettes, as well as the cornice above the 
entrance pavilion and other decorations. 


The Medinah Temple is one of the best examples of Shrine mosque 
architecture in the United States. By the early 1900s, the chief use 
of Islamic architectural styles in this country was for the Shrine 
organization, which built dozens of Islamic- influenced buildings 
throughout the country between 1904 and the early 1930s. 

Medinah Temple was the first Shrine mosque designed by architects 
Harris H. Huehl (1862-1919) and Richard G. Schmid (1863-1937). 
Both men were Shriners and Huehl had served a term in 1905-06 as 
potentate (president) of Medinah Temple. The partnership had a well- 
established practice in Chicago before designing the Medinah Temple, 
but this building's exotic design and detailing gave the firm national 
prominence. The leading architecture periodicals of the time praised 
the temple and considered it a masterful expression of Shrine esthetic 
ideals. Huehl and Schmid — together and separately — went on to design 
a half dozen other major Shrine-related buildings. 

Criterion 7: Unique Visual Feature 

Its unique location or distinctive physical appearance or presence 
representing an established and familiar visual feature of a neighborhood, 
community, or the City of Chicago. 

The monumental edifice of the Medinah Temple has been a corner- 
stone of the Near North neighborhood since the temple's completion 
in 1912. Its picturesque Islamic-style architecture, together with its 
seemingly hand-hewn walls, make it an exotic, if not quixotic, addition 
to North Wabash Avenue. The Medinah Temple represents a genuine 
architectural "oasis," as refreshing for its monumental scale as for its 
curious ornament. 

Its dark colors, ornate details, and minimal building setbacks combine 
to create a four-story mass that seemingly rises right from the flat urban 
landscape. In the truest mark of a visual landmark, no one can miss 
seeing — and remembering having seen — the Medinah Temple. 

Although its architecture was intended to reinforce the Islamic- 
based pageantry for its members, the building also is remembered 
by generations of Chicagoans who saw it as the fanciful backdrop 
for the annual Shrine Circus. Over the decades, the Temple also 
has been a well-known destination for the hundreds of thousands — 
if not millions — who have attended not only the circus , but various 
concerts, high school and college graduations, and a wide variety 
of other performances. 



The integrity of the proposed landmark must be preserved in light of 
its location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, and ability to express 
its historic community, architectural or aesthetic interest or value. 

The exterior of the Medinah Temple Building retains its historic integ- 
rity to a high degree. The principal alteration to the original design 
has been the removal (circa 1939) of the two original terra cotta domes 
on the Wabash Avenue corner pavilions. (Simpler, less ornate onion- 
shaped domes, made of sheet metal, were erected in 1954 and removed 
in 1995). With only a few other minor exceptions, the remainder 
of the building's original exterior design is intact. 

Significant Historical 

and Architectural Features 

Whenever a building is under consideration for landmark designation, 
the Commission on Chicago Landmarks is required to identify the 
"significant historical and architectural features" of the property. This is 
done to enable the owners and the public to understand which elements 
are considered most important to preserve the historical and architec- 
tural character of the proposed landmark. 

Based on its preliminary evaluation of the Medinah Temple, 
the Commission staff recommends that the significant historical 
and architectural features be identified as: 

• all exterior elevations, including rooflines; and 

• the following interior features of the Medinah Temple auditorium: 
the auditorium ceiling, including the main dome and three secondary 
domes; on the west wall of the auditorium, the proscenium arch 
and the matching ornamental surrounds around the flanking organ 
consoles; the capitals of the two floor-to-ceiling columns; and 

the interior casework of the windows. 



Bernstein, G. S. "In Pursuit of the Exotic: Islamic forms in nineteenth-century 
American Architecture." Ph. D dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1968. 

Celik, Zeynep. Displaying the Orient: Architecture of Islam at Nineteenth -Century 
World's Fairs. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992. 

Corbett, Harvey Wiley. "The Architecture of Fraternal Buildings." 
Architectural Forum XLV, no. 3 (September 1926), pp. 129-140. 

Diamonstein, Barbaralee. The Landmarks ofNewYork II. New York: 
Harry N. Abrams, 1993. 

Ettinghausen, Richard, and Oleg Grabar. The Art and Architecture of Islam, 
650—1250. Pelican History of Art series. London: Penguin Group, 1987. 

Harris, Cyril M., ed. Illustrated Dictionary of Historic Architecture . New York: 
Dover Publications, 1977. 

Hatton, Hap. Tropical Splendor: An Architectural History of Florida. New York: 
Alfred A. Knopf, 1987. 

Hoag, John D. Islamic Architecture. New York: Rizzoli, 1987. 

Lancaster, Clay. "Oriental Forms in American Architecture, 1 800— 1 870." 
Art Bulletin 29, no. 3 (September 1947), pp. 183-193. 

McClurg, Donald C. WOYears of Love: Medinah Temple, Ancient Arabic Order 
Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, 1883-1983;A Centennial Commemorative. Chicago: 
MedinahTemple,A.A.O.N.M.S., 1983. 

"Medinah Temple, Chicago; Huehl & Schmid, Architects." Western Architect 19, 
no. S (May 1913), pp. 45-46, plus two plates. 

"Medinah Temple" newspaper clipping file. Research Center, Chicago 
Historical Society. 

Moore, William D. "American Shriners' Mosques, 1904— 1930: Theaters for the 
Enactment of the Fraternal Other." Paper presented at the 48th annual meeting 
of the Society of Architectural Historians, Seattle, Washington, April 7, 1995. 

Moore, William D. "From Lodge Room to Theatre: Meeting Spaces of the 
Scottish Rite." In Theatre of the Fraternity: Staging the Ritual Space of the Scottish 
Rite of Freemasonry, 1896-1929. Minneapolis: Frederick R. Weisman Art 
Museum, University of Minnesota; distributed by the University Press 
of Mississippi, 1996. 

Murphy, J. E. "Eastern Architecture in the West: Medinah Temple in Chicago, 
Huehl & Schmid, Architects." Architectural Record 33 (April 1913), pp. 339-349. 

"The Shriners: 'Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles' Reveals its Pageantry." LIFE, 
May 16, 1938. 




Richard M. Daley, Mayor 

Department of Planning and Development 

Alicia Mazur Berg, Commissioner 
Brian Goeken, Deputy Commissioner 

Report Preparation 

Terry Tatum, research and writing 

Chicago Car to Graphics, layout 

James Peters, editing 

Special thanks to William D. Moore, director of the Livingston 
Masonic Library in New York, Jean Guarino, and Lisa DiChiera 
for their research assistance. 


Terry Tatum: front cover, inside front cover, pp. 5 (all except top left), 6 
(all except far right), 8. 

100 Years of Love: pp. 2, 3 (left), 9 (top), 1 1, 14 (top), 15,17 (top), 
18, 19. 

Chicago and Its Makers (1929): p. 3 (right). 

Architectural Record (April 1913): pp. 5 (left), 6 (far right), 9 (below). 

Art History by Marilyn Stokstad (1 998): pp. 7, 1 2 . 

Commission on Chicago Landmarks: p. 1 3 (top left). 

Tropical Splendor: An Architectural History of Florida: p. 1 3 (top right). 

America: Life and Culture Society (1994): p. 1 3 (left). 

Faith and Form: Synagogue Architecture in Illinois (1976). p. 1 3 (bottom). 

The Architecture ofRubush Si^Hunter (unpublished dissertation, 198S: 
p. 14 (left). 

Courtesy of the Livingston Masonic Library, New York, NY: pp. 14 
(all except left), 16. 

LIFE magazine (May 16, 1938): pp. 17 (top), 20. 

"American Shriners' Mosques, 1904-1930": p. 17 (bottom). 

Chicago, Yesterday and Today (1932): inside back cover. 


The Medinah Temple looms over a tree-lined Wabash Avenue in this photograph taken shortly after its opening in 1912. 
The pastoral quality of this scene contrasts markedly with the Temple's present-day surroundings (see inside front cover). 


David R. Mosena, Chair 
Larry W. Parkman.Vice Chair 
John W. Baird, Secretary 
Alicia Mazur Berg 
Kein L Burton 
Marian Despres 
Michelle R. Obama 
Seymour Persky 
Ben Weese 

The Commission is staffed by the 

Chicago Department of Planning and Development 

33 N. LaSalle Street, Room 1 600, Chicago, IL 60602 

3 1 2-744-3200; 744-2958 (TDD) us/landmarks